Siblings Paul and Jessica Ghaie opened their first bottle shop, Blackhearts & Sparrows, in Melbourne’s north in 2006. The pair wanted to disprove the assumption that good wine is always expensive, and specialty wine stores are pretentious and intimidating. Melburnians clearly agreed; the city is now home to seven Blackhearts stores.
Now you can get a taste of Blackhearts by mail, too. In April the bottle shop launched a new national subscription product known simply as A Wine Service, designed to bring the neighbourhood wine store to your front door.
Paul Ghaie says the team has wanted to expand into a more substantial online offering for some time but hadn’t found a way to do it while maintaining the personality of the brand.
Blackhearts encourages customers to ask questions and try something new, aiming to present the often-overwhelming world of wine, craft beer and specialised spirits in an accessible light.
“We’ve always prided ourselves on our in-store experience – having a curated collection along with good service and advice. It's always been one of those things where we weren’t quite sure how to replicate online,” he explains.
Blackhearts & Sparrows also prides itself on sourcing only the best wine, with a keen focus on independent Australian producers and a thoughtful international selection. Its beers are carefully selected from both local and international brewers, while the spirits tend to be high end or unusual.
So its not surprising that A Wine Service makes sure to cater to different kinds of drinkers. Subscriptions are available in three formats: Classic (beginning at $120), Esoteric (beginning at $180 and Premium (beginning at $220). Subscribers to the Classic selection can choose all red wines, all white wines or a mixed selection; the Esoteric and Premium packs always combine both.
The Classic option is all about “great wines and a good price”, Ghaie says. This approachable pack, designed to offer good, bright drinking to match any weeknight dinner, also includes Blackhearts’s own collaboration wines. The Esoteric option, comprising minimal intervention wines made by smaller and pioneering makers, is for those who want a “surprise” pack, he says.
“A lot of the wines we deal with in that minimal intervention, lo-fi spectrum, went through a massive upswing four or five years ago. They were popular then but the quality wasn’t there,” he says. “A lot of the people who started off in that way are really honing their winemaking skills and techniques and we’re seeing the general quality of wine in Australia better than it's ever been.”
The Premium range is for those drinkers who know a bit about wine already, but want to step up their game. It includes bottles by revered local and foreign producers.
“It’s really reaching out to the people who love food and wine, who want more than just a box of cheap wine,” Ghaie says. “We have such a great education around food and restaurants and now the general consumer is so much more aware of what good wine is, so it gives us the opportunity to sell some really interesting things.”
A Wine Service is a collaboration with Schwartz Media, which publishes the Monthly and the Saturday Paper. Ghaie says the partnership allows Blackhearts to take the wine to a national audience in a greater capacity than it could do on its own. Subscribers will also receive invitations to events hosted by Blackhearts & Sparrows and Schwartz Media. Bottoms up.